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Guard Your Heart and Wallet: Romance Scammers on the Prowl

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Due to Valentine’s Day, February has become synonymous with romance, as individuals of all ages aspire to find love and companionship. However, it is also the month when love-based phishing and romance scams reach their peak, aiming to deceive unsuspecting victims and steal more than just their hearts, warns Fortinet.

Doros Hadjizenonos, Regional Director at leading cybersecurity specialists Fortinet, notes that fraudsters target users of social media and online dating apps in growing numbers. “So-called romance scammers typically create fake profiles to interact with users, build a relationship, and ultimately manipulate them to extract money,” he says. This can result in both financial losses and emotional trauma.

With hundreds of millions of people using online dating platforms and nearly five billion using social media, the online space offers a rich hunting ground for scammers. Researchers at Georgia State University found that scammers often target people who are newly single, wealthy, or inexperienced with using online platforms. However, people of all ages and from all walks of life have fallen victim.

Hadjizenonos notes that technology is helping romance scammers become even more sophisticated. “Deepfake photos, voice calls and videos, and letters or poems written by AI like ChatGPT, can be very convincing,” he says.

He believes AI could be used by social media platforms and dating sites to help reduce the risk to their users.  These tools could spot warning signs like persistent requests for personal details or money.

The most important measure to protect users against romance scams is awareness, he says. “People need to be very cautious online. They should think twice about sharing personal information, sending people money or private photos, or entertaining offers related to get rich quick schemes. They should also make use of the platform’s privacy settings and research their love interest’s social media footprint – if there’s no history and just one photo, this should be a red flag,”

Scammers often steal other people’s profile pictures, so a reverse image search may indicate whether the new contact is who they say they are.

Fortinet has highlighted several warning signs that individuals should be mindful of when engaging with a potential romantic partner online.

These include:

Love bombing: Rapid declarations of love, discussions of marriage, and excessive flattery.
Distance: Persistent excuses for being unable to meet in person, such as remote work locations, living in another country, military postings, or frequent travel, along with a reluctance to engage in phone or video calls.
Requests for money: Initial small requests that gradually escalate to larger sums.
Unsolicited investment advice: Claims of being a skilled investor and promises to help make easy money.
Drama: Seeking urgent financial assistance under the pretense of a medical emergency, accident, arrest, or other unforeseen events, often accompanied by a plausible explanation for their inability to access their funds.
Requests for explicit photos: Seeking private photos that could be exploited for extortion.
Inconsistencies in communication style: Multiple scammers taking turns to manipulate the victim.

Being aware of these red flags can help individuals protect themselves from potential romance scams and online exploitation. “Remain open to the magic of finding love this Valentine’s Day but remember to tread carefully and stay vigilant. It’s crucial not to let romance cloud your judgment,” Hadjizenonos concludes.

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